The African union and ways to strengthen solidarity among member states

The African union and ways to strengthen solidarity among member states

By: Abdishakur Abib Mohamed


In May 1963, 32 heads of independent African states convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to sign the Organization of African Unity Charter, which established Africa's first post-independence continental entity (OAU).

The OAU was the manifestation of a pan-African vision for an Africa that was united, free, and in charge of its own destiny, as stated in the OAU Charter, in which the founding fathers recognized that freedom, equality, justice, and dignity were essential goals for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of African peoples, and that there was a need to foster understanding among African peoples and cooperation among African states in order to achieve these goals.

The guiding philosophy was that of Pan-Africanism which centered on African socialism and promoted African unity, the communal characteristic and practices of African communities, and a drive to embrace Africa’s culture and common heritage.

The OAU's principal goals were to rid the continent of the last traces of colonialism and apartheid, to promote African unity and solidarity, to coordinate and strengthen development cooperation, to protect member states' sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to encourage international collaboration. The Organization's aim was defined out in the OAU Charter, which stated: 

● To promote the unity and solidarity of the African States;

● To coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa;

● To defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity and independence;

● To eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa; and

● To promote international cooperation, having due regard to the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Continent collaborated and spoke as one through the OAU Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa, building an international consensus in favor of the liberation effort and the battle against apartheid. The OAU had offered an effective venue for all member states to adopt coordinated positions in international fora on issues of common importance to the continent and effectively protect Africa's interests.

  On 9.9.1999, the Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) issued the Sirte Declaration calling for the establishment of an African Union, with a view, to accelerating the process of integration in the continent to enable Africa to play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems compounded as they were by certain negative aspects of globalization. 

The ways to strengthen solidarity among member states of African union. 

 The role of the African Union (AU) in the promotion of unity and solidarity of its member states remains imperative with a view to achieving development in the continent. The AU is saddled with responsibility of attaining socio–economic integration through a concerted effort to alleviate poverty and tackle corruption, to strengthening good governance through political process and civil rule which underscore transparency and accountability in the democratic system. The paper considers the economic objective of the AU and discusses the desirability to shift from intra-continental marketing to intercontinental trading and investment with other continents, diversification of her economies and strengthening of her common market, so as to impact positively to world trade and sustainable development goals. On continental peace and security, the AU also needs to adopt a stern approach against terrorism pervading the continent through legal and military options to curtail the menace. The paper identifies challenges of insecurity, incessant conflicts, overdependence on foreign Aids, corruption, political instability, inept leadership, inadequate infrastructural development, as bane of good governance and development confronting member states of AU. The paper proposes pragmatic steps to be explored by AU in curbing various challenges in a bid to improving the standard and quality of states and the African peoples. It is now critical for Africa to adopt a regional cooperation and integration plan and lay the groundwork for long-term growth. The African Union (which replaced the Organization of African Unity) is a step in the right direction. It strives to achieve greater unity and solidarity while also speeding up the continent's political and socioeconomic unification.

In addition, the New African Initiative and the New Partnership for Africa's Development advocate for reforms in Africa's interactions with the international community, particularly with highly industrialized countries, in order to bridge the development gap. The efforts undertaken toward African unification and the development of greater regional integration plans are the focus of this research. 

The way forward: ten concrete ways of strengthening the African Union’s Institutional architecture and solidarity;-

1. Adopt a political approach to integration

African integration is first and foremost a political project. Whenever it has taken big steps forward, this has been at the behest of individual African leaders who have spelt out their vision and convinced others of its merits. As with any other such project, it needs strong political foundations and drivers. The African member states have a crucial role to play in this, but only a small number of countries have the clout, influenced credibility to take the lead with ease.

2. Promote a citizen-based political integration by enhancing the Role of national parliaments, the PAP, ECOSOCC and civil society greater potential for change can be generated if the AUC and civil-society organizations work to strengthen each other. This is illustrated by the experience of the African Human Rights Commission, in which there was scope for cooperation with civil society, resulting in an improvement in the quality of the Commission’s work. There is a need to expand and deepen civil-society representation in Africa. The Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC) has promoted the federation of civil society organizations (CSOs), adding solidity to the work of civil society.

Although good progress has been made, ECOSOCC still needs to find a way to progressively incorporate a broader range of African civil-society organizations. Regional and national parliaments also need to be strengthened and to hold proper elections in settings in which it is known that changes can and will be made so that candidates and parties can lobby for change.

There needs to be much more debate on the AU in African member states, in the media, and among CSOs and citizens. The AU’s vision and political agendas do not reach national governments or the people in individual countries. The conditions for a robust, open debate have yet to be put in place. Yet there is tremendous capacity developing from below and people may well take their destiny in their own hands. There is a need to set up a process and to decide on the distribution of tasks, mandates and competences among key actors. There is in fact strong popular support for the pan-African vision. In many ways, African people have gone further in implementing continental integration on the ground than have the pan-African institutions themselves. At the same time, few African states can claim to be people-driven. As a result, one must be skeptical about the people-driven nature of the AU’s current African integration project. 

To create a people-centered Union, national governments have a crucial role to play in driving the process. In institutional terms, the focus should not lie solely on the AUC. Rather, it is important to recognize the added value of other organs and involve the RECs and member states. The ECOSOCC and the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) can promote popular representation in internal decisions.

3. Empower the AU Commission

Any successful integration project needs autonomous and credible central institutions that can act as motors. A strong AUC would gain credibility if it had the right of initiative, and was given powers to implement decisions and to enforce treaties. In the absence of supranational powers, the AUC cannot effectively take on this role as the motor or coordinator of African integration. The Commission’s Chairperson has no special right of enforcement, given that all the AU’s organs have the same status.

At the same time, the AUC also needs to do its own homework in order to ‘earn’ such competences, as well as the necessary authority and credibility. This implies institutional innovation and internal reforms:

• building sectoral and thematic competences (on trade, for example);

• strengthening horizontal communication (‘one college, one voice’) so as to counter

Perceptions that there is no real collegiate spirit, even though these may be poorly Founded;

• Solid planning and budgeting;

• Efficient recruitment and competency-based human resource policies;

• Communication and information policies to reach out to member states and the broader public.

4. Secure the close involvement of the member states

The member states are the backbone of the integration process. Yet many African states are fragile and not all are in favor of regional integration. Many see their fi rst priority as strengthening their own ability to govern. In such circumstances, it is not easy to ensure their active participation in regional integration. It is therefore important to create incentives for the AU member states to engage more closely in regional integration. The transaction costs are often high and, while there may well be incentives for individuals, this does not apply to states. The payment of membership fees is a key element of any effective incentive structure. However, assuming that membership fees are indeed paid, there are other ways of fostering a bottom-up integration process and sidelining spoilers:

• Address revenue loss due to regional integration and compensation mechanisms.

• Go for low-hanging fruit to create momentum and an appetite for more: nothing succeeds like success, especially in publicly visible areas like migration and air transport, which can quickly reduce the cost of doing business.

• Use variable geometry to increase member state involvement. Those who are ready should be allowed to move ahead and act as locomotives and should be supported as much as possible.

• Design instruments that respond to local needs (EU examples may be of value here: EU structural funds, the internal poverty reduction program and the EU rural Development program).

5. Build on the role played by the RECs in both economic and political terms

The example of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) also illustrates the useful role that RECs can play in implementing and managing continental projects for the AU.

The AU recognizes eight RECs as the ‘pillars’ of continental integration. Given their growing importance as the building blocks of African integration, their roles and experience should be further exploited. The RECs should not only be an economic driving force, but also gradually play a more prominent political role as ECOWAS has successfully done in the fields of peace and security, governance and freedom of movement in recent years. Other RECs are also performing a more political role.

The relationship between the AUC and the RECs needs to be improved, and roles more clearly defined, in the coming years. African integration should allow scope for a differentiated architecture building on the RECs’ specific c strengths (see the role played by ECOWAS on governance, including the suspension of Niger as an ECOWAS member).

6. Strengthen the role of the newly established African Governance Architecture

The establishment of the AU was accompanied by the launch of a number of governance organs and initiatives, including the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The purpose was to advance a common African agenda on governance.

In the course of the past two years, a number of attempts have been made to strengthen linkages and coordination between the various governance organs and programs. The aim was to consolidate a pan-African framework on governance, otherwise known as the African Governance Architecture (AGA). Under the leadership of the AUC, discussions on the AGA were launched, culminating in an agreement on the basic elements of the AGA that was signed in March 2010. The AGA is the overall political and institutional framework for the promotion of governance at a pan-African Level.

It consists of three pillars:

(i) a vision (reflected in norms and values);

(ii) a set of institutions (with a formal mandate to promote governance on the continent) and actors (including civil society in all its diversity);

(iii) a number of processes (i.e. interactions between the various institutions and actors) aimed at creating synergies and dividing tasks in relation to shared governance priorities.

7 Clarify the division of roles and establish a dynamic interaction among the various AU institutions and players

Effective integration requires clear mandates, a clear role division and a sharing of powers between the players, i.e. the AUC, PAP, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Assembly of Heads of State, ministerial meetings, ECOSOCC, etc. It would be a mistake to focus solely on the mandate, role and capacities of the AUC instead of looking at the full picture. Equally, it is important to address this question in terms of the different levels of African governance, i.e. national, regional and continental, and to try and observe the principle of subsidiarity.

It is particularly important to avoid an imbalance in which excessive power is concentrated at a regional level, as this may hamper the allocation of power to a continental level. The example of the EPAs may be instructive in this respect.

8. Ensure institutional structures have the requisite capacities and resources

The AU suffers from a lack of sustained African resources, both human and financial. Its growing dependence on external funding is an issue that needs to be watched closely. Funding by the member states creates ownership. Membership fees are a key element in the operation of any regional or continental organization. Resource mobilization in Africa and taxation (in the form of value added tax, community tax, etc.) to create a politically independent Commission will help to raise its accountability. Of course, domestic resource mobilization depends on the resource base and this is still weak but, while increasing ODA may help, this is not the fundamental issue. Rather, what is needed is more trade and foreign direct investment. In this sense, competitiveness is vitally important. A 1% increase in Africa’s trade would be worth more than all the ODA the continent currently receives. In addition, the use of innovative financial instruments, such as continental or regional pools and facilities (e.g. structural funds) offering funding and investment opportunities may also be a means of funding regional integration.

9. Actively manage process issues: sequencing, timing and variable geometry

Giving the time and proper development support to African governance institutions is crucial if they are to develop in a healthy way and play a more influential role. It is therefore important for both Africans and external partners not to expect too much too fast from young institutions. Overloading institutions with roles they are not yet equipped for or capable of fulfilling poses serious risks, not least of undermining their credibility if they do not deliver.

Variable geometry is another useful concept. Although the AU already allows member states who are ready to move ahead on a particular issue and act as locomotives, this could perhaps be formalized as a more widely recognized and respected principle. Lack of readiness – not being ready to move forward on certain aspects of integration when others are – should not have a stigma attached to it.

Building continental integration through regional integration may also be a principle that needs to be given greater emphasis as a process element, because it is often easier for member states to identify with the regional rather than with the continental level.

This is the original concept behind the Abuja Treaty of 1991, under which the regional economic communities were to provide the foundations for continental integration.

10. Create instruments for monitoring and enforcement Effective systems of monitoring and enforcement are crucial, not only for ensuring real progress and efficient management, but also for building legitimacy and credibility.

Such systems need to be put in place both within and between individual institutions. Each institution needs to have its own internal monitoring and reporting system. The AUC needs to report to the Assembly of Member States, whilst the PAP and ECOSOCC need to be able to hold both the Commission and the Assembly to account. The Court needs to have the capacity to adjudicate on differences of opinion between the institutions.

The rules of engagement on how the organs relate to each other will become increasingly important in the future as continental integration advances.

Some system of enforcement is also required. At present, the Assembly and Executive Council have limited powers to impose sanctions on members for such matters as the non-payment of membership dues.

The AUC is also expected to act as the ‘Guardian of the Treaties’, but is not in a position to enforce them and therefore depends on the willingness of other actors to play their roles constructively and adequately. There is thus no effective way of challenging any member states, or indeed other actors, who do not carry out their obligations under the treaties. In due course, the Court could well have an important role to play here in interpreting areas lacking in clarity and imposing legal sanctions, but in the first instance the rules should be clear.

The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is another important tool for monitoring progress in the fields of administration and good governance, but it still has a life somewhat outside the AU. The African Governance Architecture would benefit t from its institutionalization and from being more closely linked with other governance instruments and institutions on the continent. 


The current institutional reform of the AU is diverse from previous limited of OAU to AU reform efforts for the reason that it be aware of the primacy of the State in the implementation of a successful reform process. In this respect, the prevalent AU reform agenda was originated through a Troika arrangement composed of AU Chairpersons for 2016, 2017, and 2018. These Troikas are President Idriss Itno Déby, President Alpha Condé and President Paul Kagame, respectively.35 The Troika plan is a distinctive feature of the ongoing AU reform and has verified to be one of the acute pointers that directed to the political commendation of this effort for an institutional re-configuration.

The AU reform agenda is being realized and contained by the context of the absence of shared leadership between the influential States, and heterogeneity in the condition of State collaboration. The leading financial contributing countries have been consulted but are not motivating the reform agenda. These countries comprise Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa. They contribute 9.6% each towards the Union’s budget, while Angola currently contributes 8%. These six countries, therefore, contribute a combined estimate of 56% towards the overall budget of the Union.36 The absence of political